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My Inspirational Trip to Ecuador

The Infamous Question: “How was your trip?”

            To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin when trying to answer this question but I’ll give it a shot. STILL A FACT: Ecuadorians really don’t care for hot water. The first hot shower I had was yesterday and it was magical.

            The first couple days of the trip were spent in Quito, which is the capital city of Ecuador. This city is immense and filled with a plethora of interesting sites and places to visit. I took a cable car to the highest peak in Quito and got a 360 degree view of the entire city, went to the historic city center to see the presidential palace and a church that was plated in hundreds of pounds of gold, experienced Ecuadorian nightlife, drank scotch for the first…and last time, saw some beautiful monuments, and really immersed myself in the tourist role. The people in Quito are extremely friendly, however, the infrastructure in about 90% of the city is completely shattered and the standard of cleanliness and sanitation is far below what I am accustomed to. Last night I stopped at 7-11 to use the restroom and thought to myself, “Wow, how clean!”

*Cultural Don’t: Asking for hot sauce is blasphemous, and quite possibly punishable by death via the stink eye.

From Quito to The Galapagos…Beach life here I come! Or so I thought.

            Our group took a three hour flight from Quito to San Cristobal Island on the Galapagos, and what a beautiful journey! Landing on the island was exhilarating and filled me with excitement, curiosity, and an immeasurable eagerness to explore. Our first day (New Year’s Eve) was spent visiting the giant endangered tortoises, hiking to a remote cove to take a swim, and the Charles Darwin Center. It was pretty powerful to stand in the same spot that Charles Darwin did when he composed his theory of evolution and this experience definitely gave me some food for thought.

         The group stayed in two different houses owned by families on the island and thinking hot water would flow freely was such a misconception. However, the kindness exerted by the families and their genuine happiness to host us was overwhelming and well worth the 50 degree showers I endured. The ex-mayor of the island (Milton) and his family hosted a traditional Ecuadorian style dinner for us on New Year’s Eve in their home which consisted of; popcorn, fried bananas, cold mini hot dogs, sliced cucumbers, rice, and strawberry soda. Muy intersante. After dinner we walked through the town of San Cristobal where everyone was out on the streets listening to music, dancing, and drinking. At midnight everyone in the town goes onto the main streets and lights straw hand-made dolls on fire that have an article of clothing on them from 2012. This symbolizes leaving the past year behind and starting fresh in the New Year.

            The next day we traveled to a remote inland part of the island and stayed on a farm owned by the ex-mayor and his wife called Finca Guadalupe. Remote is an understatement because we were literally in the middle of nowhere. However, nowhere was beautiful. Our group stayed in a three level volunteer house. The first level was invested with tarantula sized spiders, the second level was plagued with black mold, and the third level was mosquito heaven…so you had to pick your poison in regards to sleeping arrangements. I went with the mold and got sick, but hey, at least I didn’t end up with a spider on my face in the morning! New years day was spent on the farm and we hiked to a beautiful waterfall. The hike was challenging and was guided by the ex-mayor and his machete, which he used to clear a path for us to get to the waterfall. We ate wild oranges, sugar cane, and I’m apparently oh so sweet because I ended up getting 40 mosquito bites! Epic fail, but it was worth it. That night the ex-mayor led a discussion in which he outlined the Island’s efforts in regards to sustainably, which are quite different then ours.

            From the farm, we traveled back to the port where we took a 2-hour ferry ride to Santa Cruz Island. The ferry was…dilapidated to say the least but a beautiful ride nonetheless. Santa Cruz was a bit more “tourist friendly”, which everyone embraced with open arms because pizza and beer had never sounded so appealing. We took the day to relax and visit another Charles Darwin center.

*Cultural Do: Riding in the bed of pick-up trucks as transportation, so epic! 2nd Cultural Do: The flight attendants poke and shake you on the airplane until you wake up for the snack they are serving. It was quite comical to see my friends’ reactions to this. Cultural Don’t: Bathing with soap. Mosquitoes love soap…I promise you can take my word on that one.

From the Galapagos, back to Quito, and then to the Andes.

            We took a hike, a ride in the back of a pick up truck, a ferry, a plane back to Quito, and then a 5 hour bus ride before finally reaching the indigenous Kichwa community in the Andes. This was one of my favorite places on the trip. We stayed on a farm owned by the community’s healer or “shaman” and her husband. Isabel and Andres are two of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I had the privilege of meeting on my journey. Their primary source of income is breeding and selling chickens, and they sell an average of 200 chickens a week! I accidentally walked into the slaughterhouse one morning, big mistake.

            While in the Andes we spent time at the local school organizing activities for the children. Up until last year the school consisted of grades K-6, and this year they have added a 7th and 8th grade class. However, after 8th grade the students graduate and start working in the community. The people in the community live off of their land and each meal consists of chicken, rice, and potatoes in some facet. The community is very collectivistic in nature, and everyone works together to ensure posterity and the overall well being of each family. For example, people in the community travel via horseback or foot, however, if someone does own a car they donate it to the community so that tourists and volunteers are able to be transported or so that they can transport goods to the main city (about two hours away) to be sold.

            While in the community we spent time weeding the fields that provide food for the children’s school lunches, hiked to some beautiful waterfalls, learned the process of making cheese by the local cheese maker, and milked cows. The people in this community were so excited to see us, and we were greeted with open arms, kisses, waves, and hugs everywhere we went.

            Isabel performed a sacred ritual for five of us called “cleansing of the cui”…cui=guinea pig. Guinea pigs are sacred animals in Ecuador and are used for sacrificial rituals and are considered a delicacy to eat. The “cleansing of the cui” is a very spiritual tradition performed within the tribe and the first night we were there Isabel had one girl in our group sit with her while she read her energy and told her things about her past, present, and future. She then sacrificed the poor guinea and I wont get into the gory details, but was able to tell this girl about her internal physical and mental health problems as well as her strengths. This girl has fibromyalgia and liver tumors...and the Isabel picked up on this. It was incredible, and I have never experienced anything like this. I was nervous and a little skeptical to participate in the ritual, however, I figured that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity so I decided to go ahead and do it. What an experience. The first thing that Isabel told me while she was performing the ritual on me was this; “The first thing I see in you is your family. You carry their spirits with you everywhere you go and they are always surrounding you. They are the most important thing in your life and you place immeasurable value on them”. Wow. I am sure you are all well aware of the close-knit relationship I have with each member of my family and hearing this led me to believe in the validity of the ritual and overall it was an extremely spiritual experience that I feel privileged to have had. It was interesting to feel the different energies in the room when each individual person was having this ritual done. One girl had a very intense and sad energy, one guy had a dark and depressing energy, and the overall energy in the room while I was going was calm.

Some things Isabel touched on throughout the reading:

-       - I have a river spirit. This means that I am adventurous and that not a lot scares me. I like to take chances and I’m not afraid to experience the “uncomfortable” or the “challenging”.
-       - I’m a good decision maker and take pride in my studies.
-      -  I’m competitive
-       - I have an emerald green aura that is spiky, very strong, and very beautiful.
-       - I will have a son one day that is beautiful and healthy.
-       - I look out for the people around me and care deeply about their well being
-      -  I tend to stress myself out a lot in my own head.
-       - My dad is genuinely happy and healthy.
-       - My mom will always love me, no matter what decisions or mistakes I make and that she feels proud to have me as a daughter. (This was particularly interesting because the morning prior to the ritual my mom sent me an e-mail saying, “She’ll love me no matter what and how proud she is of me.”
-       - She got an image of me as a child standing in front of Sammy saying “No, No, No!” à My mom and dad always tell stories about how I would say to Sam, “No Sammy, No!”.

              I have done some research on the color of my aura, and this is what it yielded: Relates to heart and lungs. It is a very comfortable, healthy color of nature. When seen in the aura this usually represents growth and balance, and most of all, something that leads to change. Love of people, animals, nature; teacher; social. A healer, also a love-centered person.
However, as with anything we must take things like this with a grain of salt but it was a very interesting experience to say the least. Isabel’s ability to read the body and mind is something that I will never forget.
** Cultural Do: leaving all the organs in the chicken when serving it. Cultural don’t: not accepting and eating food when it is offered to you. Conclusion: I ate some strange meals.

From the Andes to the Amazon.

            The Amazon. Holy Smokes! Where to start… We spent our time in the Amazon in two different places. The first was an animal rehabilitation center in the middle of the jungle. The family that operates the center receives monkeys, mammals, reptiles (including boa constrictors!), and birds that have been confiscated from the black market, the circus, or animals that were used illegally as domesticated pets. Our stay here was quite interesting. There was no running water and there was only electricity from 6:00-8:00 p.m. and it was powered through a generator. We also cooked all our own meals at this place and the first night there I made spaghetti sauce (from scratch) for 20 people. Needless to say, I was the Cat’s Pajamas because we had been eating rice and potatoes for the 4 days prior to that. Italian Stallion right here!
The surrounding area was absolutely breathtaking. Our volunteer work consisted of feeding the animals, cleaning their cages, and specifically I collected grasshoppers with my bare hands in the middle of the jungle to feed to the monkeys being rehabilitated at the center. The Clevelander in me came out quickly and I caught those grasshoppers like it was nobody’s business!

            Oh the monkey’s….they aren’t so cute after a while. We stayed in the volunteer house, which was made out of wood boards and an open tin roof. One night I woke up only to find a little monkey sitting on the shelf next to my bed…he was eating a pack of crackers I had left out. Rude if you ask me. I was also robbed by a monkey in the little village. I was walking out of a store and carrying a plastic bag filled with water bottles and some packages of cookies. The monkey came up to me and just stood in front of me without moving. I set the bag down nicely and the monkey then proceeded to dig through the bag and take out a package of cookies. He then ran off with the cookies and ate them…right in front of me! I can now say that I’ve been mugged…by a primate.

            From the animal shelter we took a 4 hour bus ride to Sachupakari, which is an  eco-lodge located in a remote part of the Amazon. Sachupakari was also one of my favorite places because we got to do some hands on work with the indigenous community. The first day we took a hike down to the river where we were able to swing like Tarzan from a hanging branch into the river and then we got to inner tube down the rapids, so beautiful! The next couple days we spent with another Kichwa tribe and we helped them build a rainwater harvesting system, made crafts for them to sell, and wove grass skirts out of banana leaves for them to wear during their traditional dances and rituals. One night the Kichwa elders organized a huge bonfire on the beach where we all gathered to dance around the fire with the children while the elders played drums and sang their traditional hunting songs. This was the first time they had shared this with outsiders visiting the community. What an honor.

             In all honesty, this was one of the most depressing parts of the trip. The children in the tribe eat one meal a day which is usually 4-8 ounces of mashed up Yucca. That’s it. They are all very thin and malnutritioned. No one in the tribe is able to afford shoes and clothes are a rarity. However, I have to say that these are the happiest people I encountered. They care deeply for their families and the entire community is very close-knit. It took us a couple days for the children to trust us, but once they did it was beyond rewarding. Specifically, I formed relationships with two children, one boy (Jhondi, 10 years old) and one girl (Maria, 2 years old). Jhondi was a typical boy; he loved to play soccer with me, had me chase him around, and loved to dance. At one point he said to me, “No Te Gusto Bailare”, which I later found out means “I don’t like your dancing”. Great. Jhondi wanted to learn as many English phrases as I could teach him, and his curiously was inspirational. He would point to something or say a word in Spanish and I would say it in English and he would repeat it. So cool.

            Maria was a different story. She was severely underweight with a pronounced belly and this broke my heart. After a few days we were inseparable. She loved to sit on my lap and hold my hand. I made a bracelet for her and brought her some chocolate cookies and a little toy. The pure joy on her face made my trip worth it. The countless insect bites, cold showers, sticky weather, soreness from working, and strange food seemed trivial in comparison to what these people face each and every day. Maria was the light in some very dark moments and emotions I experienced along the way. She gave me a new perspective on what’s important and what’s pure B.S.

            Now, I am sitting at my kitchen table, sipping a warm latte, eating a bowl of cereal, and asking myself, “What now?”
            After all has been said and done this is the underlining “take-away” I’ve realized; Kindness is universal, no matter what language or other barriers we encounter with others.
            This was the trip of a lifetime. It was filled with realizations, affirmations, and new perspectives that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I owe this experience to my wonderful parents, because without them none of this would have been possible. One of my many affirmations from my journey; I am one lucky girl that is surrounded by a whole lotta love, and I’ll always strive to share that love.

Love to You All,
Brynn Ann Bewley

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